COMMENT:

"I think I might have diabetes," says Miss 15.

"I'm thirsty a lot and drink heaps of water. I'm always hungry, too."

I tell her it sounds like teenager-itis.

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"You train almost every day and you're still growing. Any other symptoms?," I ask.

"My joints ache," says Miss 15. "All of them. What's that called?"

"Arthritis," I say. "Except what you have is HYPOCHONDRIA."

Dr Google beckons us to turn symptoms into disease. What used to be a headache is now a brain tumour.

What we need is not self-diagnosis, but prevention, as measles outbreaks red-dot the planet. The Bay of Plenty has seen five confirmed cases; Auckland, 18 and Canterbury, at least 34.

In the US, a New York county said it planned to ban unvaccinated children from all public spaces after more than 150 cases were confirmed last month.

Outbreaks highlight the danger of the anti-vaccination movement. The internet has spread fear and rumours like disease, causing the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently to declare the anti-vaxxer movement a major threat to public health.

Mass immunisation campaigns helped slash the number of measles deaths worldwide by 80 per cent between 2000 and 2017, but that headway may be stalling. Around 95 per cent of the population must be vaccinated to achieve "herd immunity", which is when so many people are immune to a virus there's less chance those who can't be vaccinated, like babies, are exposed.

As of December 2017, 92.4 per cent of New Zealand infants had received their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, but only 88.6 per cent of 5-year-olds had received their second. The Bay of Plenty has one of the lowest MMR vaccination rates in the country, at 78 per cent. Two doses of MMR vaccine are at least 97 per cent effective in preventing measles. And they're free.

It's easy to forget that diseases like smallpox and polio, which killed, sickened and weakened hundreds of millions of people, have nearly disappeared because of vaccines.

French epidemiologist Christian Perronne said because people no longer saw others dying from infectious diseases, "...they think vaccines are useless". Vaccines have been victims of their own success.

While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they're not entitled to their own facts.

Anti-vaxxers formulate baseless data with graphs and charts to make false claims appear factual. Some say they've researched vaccinations for years. They've done the equivalent of studying French with a tutor who only speaks Gibberish. Living in this bubble, they've convinced themselves vaccine risks are so great they'd rather take a chance on acquiring a disease roughly nine times more contagious than Ebola. Because of its infectiousness, measles has killed more people than Ebola, and is the leading killer among vaccine-preventable diseases.

Anti-vaxxers love death-by-anecdote: "But someone's second cousin's son died after getting vaccinated!" I once heard a 12-year-old say. A) I don't know if that's true; B) everything carries risk. I could get trapped by my car's seatbelt in a water crash and die; I still buckle up every time. My late husband died of complications from surgery. This does not mean I'll refuse an operation for myself or my children if benefits are likely to outweigh risks.

One in 10 people with measles need hospital treatment and the most serious cases can result in deafness or swelling of the brain. Allowing your child to contract measles isn't doing her a favour; the virus suppresses the immune system for several years after infection.

Indeed, vaccines carry risk - mostly crying, sore arm and fever, but not autism (that theory, based on a 12-person study using falsified data, was debunked years ago). What carries infinitely more risk are diseases like polio, smallpox, hepatitis B, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella.

The media is partly to blame for the downturn in vaccine confidence. Anti-vaxxers have gained notoriety and validation while appearing on major outlets who allowed them to spread falsehoods nationwide and internationally.

While doctors and scientists also had their say, it's time to smash the false equivalency.

One group speaks science; the other deals in disinformation and fear. I once heard a comedian say if Jesus arrived on Earth, CNN would have him in a split screen with Satan to get the "other side".

We don't invite flat earthers to debate scientists, or people who believe the moon is a hologram or those who think the world is run by lizard people.

It's doubtful science, sickness or even deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases will prompt adult anti-vaxxers to change their views. I do have hope many of their children will follow the lead of American teen Ethan Lindenberger. At age 18, he got himself vaccinated against his mother's wishes.

While Lindenberger said his mum got her information from Facebook, he sought data from peer-reviewed studies and articles published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO. Lindenberger posted on Reddit, "My parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme. It's stupid and I've had countless arguments over the topic. But, because of their beliefs I've never been vaccinated for anything, God knows how I'm still alive. But, I'm a senior in high school now with a car, a licence, and money of my own I'd assume that I can get them on my own".

Lindenberger has since been vaccinated for HPV, flu, hepatitis A and tetanus, and is scheduled for more vaccinations later.

The best rebellion saves lives. Children of anti-vaxxers, you can do better, because you know better. Vaccination may be the best 18th birthday present ever.